Kinetic Energy: Almost More Boating Fun Than The Law Allows

After appropriating a small boat from my friend's little sister, we made a few modifications....

When I was a teenager, my friend Gene's little sister got a boat from some friends, who figured she could play with it in their swimming pool. When I first took a look at it, I thought it was silly, and I didn't like the red gelcoat with shiny flakes. Too flashy, not a serious boat. But it was a boat, so I took a closer look.

The little boat was about 8 feet long, consisting mostly of a cockpit shaped like a lounge chair. As you sat down, your feet were in molded wells on each side of the boat, and the steering wheel was between your legs. Well, it would be, if it had a steering wheel, but it only had a bare post. You leaned back on a compartment large enough for one of those old metal 6 gallon fuel tanks, and the engine hung on a bracket bolted to the transom. There was a tiny "foredeck" a couple of feet long in front of the foot wells, and that was it. Your butt was slightly below water level.

The little boat actually had a Teleflex steering system installed, but it was one of the older kind for small engines, which required a bracket bolted to the transom to hold the end of the steering cable casing. The bracket was missing, and the cable end just stuffed into the fuel tank locker.

First order of business: Add an outboard engine

We decided that the engine bracket would hold the little 9.9 hp Johnson that powered our little aluminum boat, and if we put it on little sis' pool toy boat, it could be fun. Was it ever! Not to mention dangerous! I had to get up on one knee and lean way back over the fuel locker to reach the shift lever on the engine, and I had to sit sideways to (barely) reach the tiller to steer and control the throttle. But, I could reach it well enough to open up the throttle and blast along in a straight line, or make very wide turns.

It was fast, and sitting right down at water level, with barely any boat in front of you or beside you, made it feel faster. There was a little chop on Biscayne Bay when we tested the boat out, and bouncing along in the tiny boat at high speed, barely in control and barely able to hang on to the tiller, I had a throttle fever grin. I didn't want to stop. Gene took a turn, and we wisely decided that the boat was way too dangerous for his little sister. We also decided that we absolutely had to fix that steering as soon as possible.

Next: Steering the Boat

We put a pair of Vise Grips where a steering wheel should go, and found that the cable moved easily, pushing the steering rod in and out. Unfortunately, the little 9.9 was not designed for remote steering of this type; we needed some kind of flexible connection from the steering rod to the engine, and we needed the steering cable bracket. Off we went to the marine hardware store.

We explained to the salesman at the store that we needed one of the old-fashioned Teleflex brackets. We mentioned that we couldn't really afford a steering wheel, and intended to steer this thing using Vise Grips. He got this really worried look on his face, paused a moment, and said, "I wouldn't do that." He was dead serious, which made his comment seem like the funniest thing anyone could have possibly said. We bought the bracket, and just had to solve the problem of connecting the steering rod to the engine.

We got a 2 inch piece of extra large, extra thick surgical tubing and put a bolt in one end with a large washer, secured with a hose clamp. Then we stuck the tubing through the hole in the front of the engine where an electric start button would be mounted, if it had been an electric start engine, and hose clamped it onto the end of the steering rod with another washer. If you turned the Vise Grips left, it would pull the tubing, pulling the engine into a left turn. If you turned right, the steering rod would come back up against the side of the engine and the washers, and push the engine into a turn to the right. Good enough! Off we went!

We Were Making Progress, but the Boat Still Needed Work

Now, you could reach back and open up the throttle, then sit back down and enjoy maneuvering the boat around at high speeds with the Vise Grip steering wheel. The fun would always come to the same abrupt end when the surgical tubing found a way to pop off and the boat would go into a hard over full throttle turn. You had to dive back there and either shut it down or grab the tiller. It was fun, but had some obvious need of improvement.

Meanwhile, back inside the hull, we found that all of our fun had taken a toll on the boat. The gas tank had chewed through the stringers, and in other places the stringers were showing cracks from flexing in the chop as we went pounding around. Some repairs and reinforcements were clearly in order. We cleaned out the hull and began filling up cracks with epoxy, Marine Tex, and fiberglass. We built a small wooden bracket to hold the fuel tank in place and prevent it from damaging the hull. To stiffen the hull, we decided to fill it with foam after reinforcing the stringers. We bought a little bit of two part expanding foam. Boy, was that stuff expensive!

The foam worked very well. It begins to foam up almost immediately upon mixing, and you don't have much time to get it where it is going. We poured it through a couple of holes we had drilled in the deck, and it ran all over the place, then began expanding. The results were just what we had hoped, it was filling the gap between the hull and deck sections, but there was a problem. We were going to need a LOT more two part expanding foam. We were teenagers, and got money from things like mowing lawns. We scraped together as much money as we could, and bought more foam, then did it again. That foam seriously cut into our fun budget, but we finally had the hull pretty well filled with foam.

I Know! A Small Tiller!

Just as we really got things back together, I was looking at the boat one day, wishing we had a real, positive steering connection, and I had a brainstorm. We fixed a bolt sticking out through a hole drilled in the front of the engine, making a miniature tiller out of it. We then glued a Bimini top bow end fitting onto it, and glued another one onto the end of the steering rod. Line up the two Bimini top fittings and put in a large cotter pin, and we had a positive but flexible steering connection. Woo hoo!

A friend of ours had named the little boat "Kinetic Energy" and the name stuck. Now little Kinetic Energy had a stiffer hull, a steering wheel, and positive steering. You still had to reach way back to control the throttle, and even further back to shift gears, but we didn't much care. Once it was in forward with the throttle wide open, you didn't have much further need for those functions.

The poor little engine took a beating with all our fun, and it wasn't long before it was in the shop. When Kinetic Energy was not in use, she sat on a large styrofoam block floating at my parents' dock. We had found the block, and cut out an area to accomodate the large water ski fin on the bottom of KE's hull. We would lock the engine to a davit and to the boat. But the engine was in the shop.

Kinetic Energy Was Boat-Napped!

When we got it back, we carried it down to the boat, only to find the boat gone. All our work and all our money had gone into this little boat, and it was really just a junky little boat, not worth any money. And yet someone stole it.

We put the 9.9 Johnson back on the aluminum boat, which now seemed very slow to us, and went hunting for Kinetic Energy, but couldn't find it.

A couple of years later, our friend called Gene from a kind of seedy marina at Virginia Key, saying he had spotted Kinetic Energy tied to one of the boats. We went up there in our Boston Whaler, and sure enough, there was Kinetic Energy. What a sorry sight.

The Teleflex steering had been cut out, and the boat was mostly sunk and covered with barnacles. The guy claimed he had found the boat, without any steering, down at the islands off Coconut Grove, and claimed it as salvage, but he didn't care if we took it. We towed it home very slowly. The boat was so heavy, if we exceeded about 4 knots the bow would go under and the boat would start to sink.

We got it home and picked it up with a davit, which strained under the load. All of our foam was waterlogged. We cut the hull to deck joint all the way around and separated the sections, then chipped out all the soaked foam. We planned to clean out the sections, put them back together, put in a new steering system, this time adding shift and throttle controls, pour in new foam, and be back in business. Gene went off to college, and we left the two halves of the boat in his mom's garage.

Never Let Mom Throw Out Your Boat

Big mistake. Mom cleaned out the garage, and tossed out the boat.

One day, I hope to recreate Kinetic Energy, this time with a throttle lever on one side of the wheel and a shift lever on the other. It was the funnest boat I have ever driven.

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